An Introduction to the Development of Sneaker Culture

 My first pair of Air Jordan I "Bred". And only :(. Arguably the "shoe that started it all". 

 My first pair of Air Jordan I "Bred". And only :(. Arguably the "shoe that started it all". 

Frustration.

It's early September 3rd, 2016, and I've just received the email from Nike.com that my number was unfortunately not selected for the Air Jordan Bred 1 raffle. Nor were the 10-15 raffle tickets that my girlfriend and I signed up for at various sneaker store locations around my city. I wasn't really surprised though, I was already anticipating it. As disappointment and frustrated as I was about not being able to purchase the sneakers (and my birthday just so happened to be 4 days away), I couldn't really blame myself or anyone else. It was in fair game, and everyone who participated in the raffle seemingly had a fair chance to get the shoes (one could argue against that but that in it of itself deserves its own blog post). 

The raffle system was annoying for most people, but it just has to be used nowadays. It wasn't like back in the day where you would line up and shoes were sold at a first-come-first-served priority. Some people already ruined that for everyone else. Stabbing, stealing, cutting in line ruined these releases-- all just for "exclusive" colored rubber and leather foot-protecting devices. 

Facebook has a huge sneaker market place where people can buy, sell, and trade their shoes locally.

Facebook has a huge sneaker market place where people can buy, sell, and trade their shoes locally.

Minutes, or even several seconds later, these exact shoes I missed out on were already being sold on eBay, Craigslist, and Facebook groups, reaching prices that, at the very least, doubled or tripled its actual retail price of $160. These resellers clearly had no intention of wearing the shoe, which is what I would have done, and done well. Instead, these people had the sole intention of making some profit over what has become its own market, the sneaker culture. 

But how did this obsessive, strange, and profitable "culture" come about? Why did people wait long hours or days in line, skip class or work, and spend upwards of sometimes even 500% of the original retail price on a pair of sneakers? Why did these $160 sneakers that were priced at just $65 thirty years ago just sell out on me right before my eyes?

It can't be pointed out to one specific moment in time, but there are many instances in which one can see the general interest in sneakers steadily grow. The inception of this culture is definitely a culture in it of itself.

Let's go further back.

At one point in time, people used to buy basketball sneakers to play basketball, and tennis shoes to play tennis. Some of the earlier and now coveted Air Jordan sneakers would sit on shelves, sometimes even going on clearance just to try to get people to buy them so that they could save space for shoes that would actually sell. 

Do the Right Thing - A Spike Lee Join t  (1989).   The character cleans his shoes with a toothbrush after they have been scuffed.

Do the Right Thing - A Spike Lee Joint (1989). The character cleans his shoes with a toothbrush after they have been scuffed.

Times eventually changed, and sneaker culture and everyday culture started to become synonymous with one another. Spike Lee's film Do The Right Thing featured a scene in which one of the characters' brand new Air Jordan sneakers were scuffed, to his dismay. 

"Not only did ya knock me down, you stepped on my brand-new white Air Jordan's I just bought, and that's all you can say is "excuse me"?" - Buggin' Out - Do The Right Thing

People started to want to wear those special sneakers Michael Jordan had on when he knocked down "The Shot" over Craig Ehlo in 1989, or the ones he had on when he was allegedly playing with a flu. Others started to sport Adidas sneakers due to Run DMC's huge cosign on them, having a song out with the title "My Adidas".

Nike and Jordan brand took action when they noticed the massive interest, and started to re-release some of their most popular shoe models throughout the years.

Fast forward to the 2000s, and sneakers have become a form of expression, rather than just rubber used to protect one's foot-- arguably the real reason that shoes even exist. 

I'm personally a huge sneaker geek and have read countless articles on sneakers and stories about getting sneakers such as this one. Complex editor Russ Bengston's article about how he got his Nike Supreme dunks back in 2002 really made me wish that I wasn't only 7 years old at the time, without any knowledge or money for the release. To save you some reading (but please read it), his article/story basically goes like this: Emails and phone calls were the main ways of getting sneaker information around. Supreme gave out an approximate instead of official release time, and would only release about a dozen pairs per day. The only way you would be able to find out if the shoes were there is if you happened to physically be at either Supreme's NYC location, or the Tokyo location. He was eventually able to pick his pair up after the second or third time he visited. Most importantly, he beat these shoes to the ground rather than never wearing them and just selling them for profit, an often go-to option in today's world of sneakers.

Although the retail price in 2002 stood at around $120, legitimate sneaker store Flight Club currently has some listed at the moment for a flat $1,000, on their webstore, while the rarer size 13 pair sits at an incredible $2,000 due to exclusivity. 

My personal pair of the sneakers the mentioned article was referencing. Only 500 authorized pairs exist. They pay homage to one of Nike's most popular sneakers, the Black Cement Air Jordan III.

My personal pair of the sneakers the mentioned article was referencing. Only 500 authorized pairs exist. They pay homage to one of Nike's most popular sneakers, the Black Cement Air Jordan III.

I can still remember the madness that occurred on the 10 year anniversary of these Supreme Nike sneakers in 2012. To commemorate its release, Supreme and Nike once again collaborated on a similar sneaker, but instead replacing the black leather on the shoe with red leather. People lined up for days, maybe weeks before it would be available to the public. This release was a huge difference in contrast from the 2002 release, and although the quantity of production didn't have a definite number, it was definitely more than only 500 pairs. I knew of many people who tried getting the shoes online through Supreme's website, and only one of them ended up picking up a pair, but in a size 8 as opposed to his size 12 feet. He ended up selling them and making a huge profit out of them. 

Modern day "sneaker heads"?

We're now in what one could refer to as the golden age of sneakers. An age where people go out of their way to protect their skateboarding or basketball shoes, even though these shoes are meant to take a beating. The wide accessibility of sneakers may be annoying to some, but regardless is an interesting topic. We're now at that point where arguably every highschooler living in a major city knows the difference between "Yeezys" and "Air Jordans", and most know where and when each "exclusive" pair of sneakers is going to release. 

A big reason for all of this is the fact that sometimes, people just like to buy into what's hot at the time. It ties into Guy Debord's idea of "The Spectacle", the idea that you need to buy into a certain thing since everybody else is into it. "I'm not even sure if I like these but I'm still probably gonna get them." "Yeah I'm probably just gonna cop (buy) to resell." These are a few of the quotes you'll tend to hear unfortunately frequently within the sneaker community. 

It's no longer a time where getting your favorite shoe is deemed an impossible fantasy. Previously, you had to be at a certain place and at a certain time to get your coveted sneakers. Now, as long as you have the money/resources, you're honestly able to get virtually whichever shoe your heart desires, whether it be through the internet, or through secondhand market sales. Although this new way of obtaining sneakers may seem unfair to sneaker collectors who have been doing so for a while, there's really no way around it or turning back from it. The sneaker culture has embedded itself into the mainstream.

You can't deny the influence of sneakers in today's world. There are countless films, forums, and even museum exhibits about sneakers, one of which I was happily able to visit before it was closed.

Brooklyn Museum   with "The Rise of Sneaker Culture"   sign next to two Kaws statues.

Brooklyn Museum with "The Rise of Sneaker Culture" sign next to two Kaws statues.

Thanks to the internet-- or no thanks, whichever way you put it-- there's no longer really secrets when it comes to sneakers. Things may still be "exclusive", but it's starting to lose its special feeling for those who have been into collecting for a while. Stories such as Bengston's show how special those shoes were to him. Wheras now, you can just search eBay or other marketplace sites and purchase the sneakers for a ridiculous price. There's not much fun in that.

Love it or not, you can no longer separate "style" from the word "sneakers". Sneakers have been a way for people from all ages to express themselves without having to say a single word. Despite the fact that some of these shoes were created to enhance sports and running performance, most people aren't really gonna buy them solely for that purpose anymore. But what is the real reason people but into it? Style, exclusivity, hype? You name it; it doesn't matter. Sneakers have created their own culture around them, and it's growing quicker than whoever even first invented sneakers could have ever expected.